On the Cosmic Meaning of Race
Now, there is no question that Jeremiah Wright is a lunatic, a racist, and a hate-monger, but that's beside the point, for truth -- if it is truth -- cannot be sullied by its vehicle. 2 + 2 = 4 is no less true even if it comes out of the deranged mouth of a Keith Olbermann. But let's look at this in a detached and disinterested way, and see if there's any truth to it.
This subject is truly the "third rail" of academia, so I will no doubt say something offensive in what follows -- or, at the very least, something that will be willfully misunderstood. On the one hand, we're all supposed to be obsessed with race and racial differences, and yet, deny that they have any intrinsic basis. If you are a politically correct leftist, you must simultaneously believe that race is "everything" and yet "nothing." It is of the utmost importance in judging people, and yet, of no importance at all. To believe there are racial differences is to automatically brand oneself a nazi, even if one is positively disposed to the differences. It's a very confusing message. Remember the Seinfeld episode, in which Jerry proclaimed that he loved Asian women? Elaine responded, "that's so racist!," and a bewildered Jerry asked words to the effect of, "how can it be racist? I said I love them."
As an example of how ideology shapes scientific perception -- or what the scientist is "permitted" to believe, and even perceive -- it has long been assumed in anthropological circles that race is entirely contingent and superficial. We are all descended from the same small band of Homo sapiens from as recently as 70,000 years ago, and that's just too short a time in evolutionary terms to result in any real changes to the human genotype. On this assumption, all human beings are genetically no different than a human being from 70,000 years ago. I am hardly the first to observe that this stance is largely an institutional reaction to the monstrosities of the racial theories of the 20th century and to the legacy of Western slavery.
The most recent scientific evidence suggests that the idea that evolution ceased 70,000 years ago is simply untrue. Awhile back I posted on Nicholas Wade's Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors (Wade is a science writer for the New York Times, no less), and he says that there is no question that significant genetic changes have taken place within just a few generations as a result of certain human groups being isolated from one another.
I don't recall all of the details, but I do recall Wade's example of the Ashkenazi Jews, whom he said rapidly developed higher IQs because they were prevented from working in most fields as a result of European anti-Semitism. In short, Jews could mostly find work in "disreputable" fields that required a certain kind of more abstract mental ability as opposed to "honest labor." But Jews got the last laugh, as they were genetically selected for higher IQs in a very short span of time. If this is true, it would explain why Ashkenazi Jews continue to have a significantly higher IQs than the average. (That's not me talking, but Wade summarizing the scientific evidence.)
Another relevant book along these lines is Richard Nisbett's The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why. The Publishers Weekly review says the book
"may mark the beginning of a new front in the science wars. Nisbett, an eminent psychologist..., contends that 'human cognition is not everywhere the same' -- that those brought up in Western and East Asian cultures think differently from one another in scientifically measurable ways.... Westerners tend to inculcate individualism and choice..., while East Asians are oriented toward group relations and obligations ('the tall poppy is cut down' remains a popular Chinese aphorism). Next, Nisbett presents his actual experiments and data, [which] seem to show East Asians [to be] measurably more holistic in their perceptions (taking in whole scenes rather than a few stand-out objects). Westerners, or those brought up in Northern European and Anglo-Saxon-descended cultures, have a 'tunnel-vision perceptual style' that focuses much more on identifying what's prominent in certain scenes and remembering it."
Now, I am not a big fan of IQ testing as a measure of general intelligence, and I believe that any average human being is equipped to comprehend absolute truth; conversely, a high IQ in no way correlates with conformity to truth, much less to creativity. If anything, the opposite is true. After a certain cut-off point, a high IQ is associated with less creativity, not to mention a narcissistic pride that results in idiosyncratic deviations from truth, which are no more than an egoic and thoroughly disposable "song of myself." Conformity to truth requires a humility that is too often lacking in the intellectually grandiose.
We needn't look further than leftist academia to appreciate the truism that a certain kind of one-dimensional high intelligence more often than not correlates with systematic nonsense, not truth. For example, college educated people vote overwhelmingly Republican, while people who have attended graduate school (business or economics excepted, of course) vote overwhelmingly Democrat. This doesn't surprise me in the least, as the problem of over-education is actually much more harmful than the problem of under-education. The latter group causes relatively few societal problems compared to the former. This is why William F. Buckley famously quipped that he would prefer to be governed by the first 100 names in the Boston telephone book than the Harvard faculty, and why he was correct. It truly takes an over-educated buffoon to believe most of the nonsense that comes out of academia.
You can only be a racist if you believe that race is unvaryingly rooted in genetics, and that certain groups are unavoidably superior and therefore inferior. But again, what if different groups are just different, but not in any pejorative sense? Or, what if each group has its strengths and weakness, so that it is once again not a matter of "either/or" but "both/and"? Just as the human being is not male or female, but the complementarity of male/female, what if the archetypal Man is all of the races harmoniously combined? What if we really should cherish the differences rather than use them as a battering ram for leftist grievance-mongering and victimization?
The most up-to-date research on intelligence indicates what should be a truism, that intelligence is not only not a general construct (or not only), but that it has many relatively independent "modules." For example, one can obviously be a musical genius but a political dolt. Too many painful examples come to mind. Likewise, one can be a scientific genius, like Einstein, and be a philosophical mediocrity and political nuisance. Or, one can be a religious genius and be a scientific kook. One can have rhetorical skills, like Obama, which conceal an intellect that is mediocre, or poor rhetorical skills, like President Bush, and have a superior IQ.
Now, I don't happen to believe that race is genetic -- or only genetic (everything is by definition genetic in some sense, so it's a tautology). Furthermore, one of the most critical points to bear in mind is that intelligence is on a Bell curve anyway, so that each group actually contains all of the human potential, just in a different mixture. Yes, the vast majority of immortal jazz musicians were black, and I believe only could have been black. And yet there have been some white jazz musicians that also achieved aesthetic perfection, e.g., Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Art Pepper.
As Schuon observed -- and Schuon is a person who not only loved racial differences, but truly cherished them -- "If racism is to be rejected, so is an anti-racism which errs in the opposite direction by attributing racial difference to merely accidental causes and which seeks to reduce to nothing these differences by talking about blood-groups, or in other words by mixing up things situated on different levels." To put it another way, nothing as precious and valuable as these differences could be a result of mere genetic shuffling. Thus the differences between, say, Taosim and Christianity, which really do involve different "inflections" of the one truth, even though -- at least according to Schuon -- they are each "complete."
What we call "race" must be a combination of genetics, culture, archetypal essences, and individuality. So it is impossible in principle to reduce someone to his race, even if we can discuss it in general terms. Furthermore, it seems to be something we can't help noticing, even if we needn't attach any negative connotations to it. For example, my son's best friends are a Japanese boy; a Chinese-American girl; an African-American adoptee of a white couple; and a boy and girl of a mixed Caucasian/African American couple. We assumed that Tristan would grow up not noticing race, but the other night we were watching a Dodger game, with the Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda on the mound. Tristan happily exclaimed, "he looks like KK!," his little Japanese friend.
One of the reasons I am so disoriented by the left, is that by the 1970s, like any good liberal, I had been naive enough to believe that Americans really were "beyond race." I was raised to believe that it was of no importance, and I didn't even know any liberals who believed otherwise. It seems to me that only with the OJ trial was the mask ripped off, and the full extent of the horror of invidious leftist race obsessions became apparent. That's when it dawned on me with great force that these people are not like me. Not African-Americans. The left. And that is much deeper than any mere racial difference. Let's put it this way: I am a different race than Jeremiah Wright, but the same one as Thomas Sowell. But I wish I were the same race as Bobby Bland or Van Morrison....
To be continued....